5 Challenges Hospital Administrators Must Overcome to Succeed in Today’s Rapidly Changing Industry

There's no doubt a hospital administrator's job is difficult and demanding, and it's only getting tougher. As competition and expenses increase, hospital executives must prepare administrators to effectively lead during a time of transformational change in our healthcare system. Here are five challenges they must overcome in order to successfully improve patient care while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

Compete for healthcare professionals

There is a real shortage of healthcare professionals, and it's hurting the profitability of hospitals as they pay more for every employee they hire. From 2008 and 2018, healthcare employment will grow by 23 percent, compared to only 9 percent in all other employment sectors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During that time, hospitals will be forced to compete for:

  • Registered nurses (expected to grow 22.2 percent)
  • Licensed practice and licensed vocational nurses (expected to grow by 20.7 percent)
  • Home health aides (expected to grow by 50 percent)
  • Nursing aids, orderlies and attendants (expected to grow by 18.8 percent)
  • Physicians and surgeons (expected to grow by 21.8 percent)

With this in mind, hospital administrators must put a plan in place to address the shortage and compete for the best employees. As they compete, they must be skilled at recruiting, hiring and retaining qualified healthcare professionals. Hospital administrators need to build strong relationships with schools that offer healthcare-related degrees in their local communities and across the nation. Additionally, they must make working at their hospital attractive, which means thinking beyond competitive pay and benefits to ensuring each individual employee feels connected to the hospital and has a passion for working for the organization.

Specialize for growth

With the rapid growth of specialty hospitals, physician-run outpatient surgery centers and diagnostic centers, traditional hospitals are facing increased competition. To compete for patients, hospital administrators must be prepared to set their hospitals apart through a specialized care strategy. Benchmarking best practices is essential; hospital administrators must take time to investigate other specialty healthcare providers in their local communities, identify areas of opportunity and put a strategic plan in place for building renowned specialty practices. During this process, they typically take numerous factors into consideration, including local demographics and competitors' areas of specialization. With a specialization strategy solidified, hospital administrators must focus their efforts on recruiting specialized personnel and building a local reputation for excellence for the practice area.  

Prepare for the future
As America's 78 million baby boomers come of age, hospitals are feeling the pressure to expand to meet growing demand. At the same time, hospitals are facing changes in the way they are paid. Reimbursements are shifting from a fee-for-service model to a model that is based on outcomes and overall quality of care.  

When patient satisfaction plays a role in the way hospitals are paid, you can bet hospital administrators are making it a priority. Therefore, hospitals are conducting extensive market research to ensure their expansion efforts are aligned with what consumers expect. For example, with the knowledge that women make most healthcare decisions in a family, one hospital decided to build an 18,000-square-foot imaging center for women with a spa-like atmosphere and robes. One children's rehabilitation hospital built a massive facility that comes complete with therapeutic gardens, play areas and even an all-grades school for inpatients. Other hospitals are converting semi-private rooms into private rooms, and there is a great deal of emphasis on making them safe, comfortable and cozy.  

Having modern facilities with up-to-date medical equipment is crucial for hospitals that are competing for patients. With this in mind, hospital administrators must be prepared to balance current financial strain while positioning for the future.

Improve patient care through technology
There's not a corner or crevice of healthcare that is not being affected somehow by technology. Medical providers throughout the country, for instance, are spending millions of dollars on electronic medical record systems that allow physicianss and hospitals to seamlessly share patient information.  

Ensuring that EMRs are effectively implemented within the healthcare organization is a critical role of healthcare administrators. However, technology is not exclusive to EMRs. Healthcare administrators need broad-based skills to integrate information and make evidence-based decisions. From electronic communication to order entry systems to the most advanced imaging technology, even the best technology is no good unless it's applied to improving organizational and patient outcomes.

Hospital administrators are responsible for making sure hospitals operate efficiently and provide quality medical care to patients. As a result, they must keep up with advances in medicine, technology and government regulations and policy changes.

Managing Medicare and Medicaid
With record numbers of unemployed people across the nation, the number of uninsured and underinsured Americans continues to grow.  Now, more than ever, healthcare administrators are challenged with providing healthcare services to these patients while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

Couple this problem with the caps on government reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid patients, and hospital administrators have, arguably, the biggest hurdle ahead of them — providing healthcare services to an aging population that relies on Medicare for their healthcare needs.  

Healthcare administrators must find ways to offset these expenses, while expanding their healthcare services in areas where they can serve more patients.

Mike Freel, PhD is the director of healthcare programs at Bellevue University's College of Arts and Sciences. In this role, Dr. Freel has administrative and faculty duties with Bellevue University's Master of Healthcare Administration and Bachelor of Healthcare Management programs. Dr. Freel has a professional background in healthcare, as well as experience in corporate organization and employee development. He has served as the procurement and transplant coordinator for the Nebraska Organ Recovery System, and as an academic chair at Nebraska Methodist College. He earned his PhD in Human Resource Development from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a focus in leadership and organizational change. His doctoral research involved the exploration of emotional intelligence and clinical nurses.  

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